Monday, July 30, 2012

Zappa in New York

Zappa in New York
A unique once-in-a-lifetime set-up; from the Saturday Night Live band, Lou Marini, Ronnie Cuber, and Tom Malone guest Zappa's band on stage, along with SNL's announcer Don Pardo, jazz-vibraphonist David Samuels, and the Brecker Brothers, at the Palladium in NYC during Christmas week 1976. The rhythm section consists of musicians with more routine in Zappa's music; Ray White (although he was quite new,) Eddie Jobson, Patrick O'Hearn, Terry Bozzio, and faithful percussion virtuoso Ruth Underwood. Aside from some re-arrangements of earlier released tunes, the album featured a lot of new material upon its release, but much of it would be re-recorded and re-released later during the composer's career, so there aren't more than three selections on these two discs that aren't available on other Zappa albums. In their original forms, both "Black Page #1" and "Black Page #2" are included - a nice treat. The overall musicianship on these discs is pretty loose and free, which isn't necessarily always for the better, since the album, aside from "Illinois Enema Bandit," "I'm The Slime," "Big Leg Emma," and "The Torture Never Stops," features very complicated compositions with very specific voicings and rhythmic phrases that call for a nitpicky performance in order to work. It's a shame that Zappa never recorded studio versions of songs like "I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth," "Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me," "Manx Needs Women," and "Approximate" because even if these are fine performances by famous virtuoso musicians, the overall performance comes through a bit hectic and sometimes slightly unorganized due to the possible lack of practice of this particular line-up. A lot of the horn players are sight-reading during the performance.
For dedicated Zappa-fans, owning these discs is definitely a must, but for those less familiar with the FZ universe, who might be looking for great ensemble playing by a Zappa-band from this era, I suggest listening to e.g. the 1975 album "One Size Fits All" before spending money on this one; being familiar with aspects of the FZ universe will help you appreciate this recording. If you have watched and liked the newly released "Baby Snakes" DVD, you certainly should consider adding "Zappa in New York" to your collection.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sheik Yerbouti

Sheik Yerbouti
When I look for a good Zappa album, I look for one thing above all, since just about every Zappa album (at least to me) is chock full of excellent music. It's what I call "clarity of vision". How does the album work as a whole? Is there a major theme? Is that theme brought out successfully?
Sheik Yerbouti is one of a handful of Zappa albums that manages to capture American civilization as it is (or as it will be). Zappa comments on society, government, religion, people, and music with both biting satire and insightful observation. Sheik Yerbouti's target is America in the mid-to-late 1970's. Disco is popular. Dylan is resurgent. Kiss is still wearing makeup and spitting blood. We are a nation of "Flakes", slaves to our consumerism. We are college students about to move back in with our parents.
This album takes you on a ride through 1970's musical styles, admittedly on the hard rock edge. And, last but not least, this album contains what is, in my opinion, the single greatest Frank Zappa guitar solo ever put to tape: Rat Tomago. As far as I can tell, it is a solo lifted from the middle of a live performance of The Torture Never Stops, recorded on a four-track reel-to-reel. Just guitar, bass and drums. It is whole-tone scale madness. It is Zappa unbound.
One more point on the experimental nature of some of the songs on Sheik Yerbouti: One "song", Rubber Shirt, is actually a melding of two completely separate tracks, one bass and one drums, playing in different time signatures. Also, the solo on Yo' Mama is what Frank would come to call (on the Joe's Garage album) an "imaginary guitar solo", meaning that the solo was placed over a background rhythm from an entirely different song. This experimentation cannot be emphasized enough. It led directly to Frank's re-evaluation of what it meant to improvise on the guitar. To use a Vonnegut reference, after Yo' Mama, and Joe's Garage, Frank's actual solos became "unstuck in time", leading to an entirely new form of guitar improvisation (best heard on the three-vinyl LP set Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joes Garage Acts I,II & III

Joes Garage Acts I,II,III
It starts on a good note, upbeat and highly enjoyable, a good mix of serious music and some comedy thrown in, but the listener is then subjected to what I call the music version of soft porn; the character, named "Joe (as portrayed by Ike Willis) gets into trouble with the law and is betrayed by the groupie, named "Mary" (portrayed delightfully by Dale Bozzio; you gotta love her), where he has a tryst with some other woman resulting in a bad case of venereal disease. This particular bit is a textbook case of the Frank Zappa dichotomy: The music to such tracks as "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?" is dramatic and powerful, but the lyrics are just what one would expect from seeing the title. Such puerile lyric content, and such spectacular music thrown together has a strange effect; instrumentally, it holds up against anything out there, but the lyrics come off as something a drunk 18-year-old would write. Very strange.

And speaking of strange, after Joe gives all his money to "The First Church Of Appliantology," he has a series of sexual encounters with a "modified Gay Bob" doll, shorting it out in an act of depravity. Although I'm no prude, this stuff just pushes the envelope; after Joe is sent to prison, more depravity ensues, as lonely men in prison, short of conjugals, can only be gratified by hand, mouth, or buttock, and the story just derails. But, as Zappa has said over the years, he used lyrics to make his music more listenable. Like I said, this is very good music, with very good singing, and really great sound quality (this release's strongest trait), but the storyline degenerates into a shambles. On a positive note, the more gratuitous material does have a good, humorous feel to it, it's just unlikely to ever be played on a broadcast. But Frank's fan base has accepted this side of his material as part of his whole body of work.

The set's penultimate number, the silly-titled, serious instrumental "Watermelon In Easter Hay" is Frank playing possibly his most expressive guitar solo, just beautiful, the opening and closing themes (I think are played by Warren Cuccurulo) sounding like Carlos Santana, and the whole body of the number just Frank letting his guitar speak. He is at his finest here, and the set closes with "A Little Green Rosetta," a sing-along two chord vamp with lots of ad-libbing, a do-as-you-feel number with a party atmosphere.

"This is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER... again. Hi!...It's me again, the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER... Joe says Lucille has messed his mind up, but, was it the girl or was it the music? As you can see... girls, music, disease, heartbreak.. .they all go together... Joe found out the hard way, but his troubles were just beginning... his mind was so messed up... he could hardly do nothin'... He was in a quandary... being devoured by the swirling cesspool of his own steaming desires... the guy was a reck... so... what does he do? For once, he does something SMART... he goes out... and pays a lot of money to L. Ron Hoover... at the First Church of Appliantology!"

"(Eventually it was discovered that God did not want us to be all the same. This was BAD NEWS for the Governments of The World as it seemed contrary to the doctrine of Portion Controlled Servings. Mankind must be made more uniformly if THE FUTURE was going to work. Various ways were sought to bind us all together, but, alas SAMENESS was unenforceable. It was about this time that someone came up with the idea of TOTAL CRIMINALIZATION based on the principle that if we were ALL crooks, we could at last be uniform to some degree in the eyes of THE LAW. Shrewdly our legislators calculated that most people were too lazy to perform a REAL CRIME. So new laws were manufactured, making it possible for anyone to violate them any time of the day or night, and, once we had all broken some kind of law, we'd all be in the same big happy club, right up there with the President, the most exalted industrialists, and the clerical big shots of all your favorite religions. TOTAL CRIMINALIZATION was the greatest idea of its time and was vastly popular, except with those people who didn't want to be crooks or outlaws. So, of course, they had to be TRICKED INTO IT... which is one of the reasons why music was eventually made Illegal.)"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Over-nite Sinsation

Over-nite Sinsation
"Over-nite Sensation" was a blatant tongue-in-cheek title for this recording because Frank Zappa knew that was exactly what this recording would become in his catalogue: an overnight sensation. And that's what it did, became Zappa's best selling and most popular album at the time of its release, gathering him an entire new group of fans to both ridicule and entertain. It was also a logical step in Zappa's evolution as both a musician and composer.

Often panned by many Zappaphiles as being too commercial, the album nonetheless contains some of Zappa's most brilliant satire as well as some of his tightest compositions. If you are new to Zappa, or are just moderately familiar with some of his tunes, this is the album to begin with. But don't be fooled by the seemingly simple riffs and hooks employed in these songs. As singer Ricky Lancelotti chants on Fifty-fifty: "I figure the odds be fifty-fifty that I just might have something to say!" Because in this album Zappa takes his most succinct stab at popular culture. His satire on America's pop culture was so cunning that he even managed to gain a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live on NBC and played "The Slime", a scathing commentary on the innane content of today's (and yesterday's) television programming. Talk about irony!

But perhaps what makes this recording so exceptional is the tight musicianship of the players, and the exceptional skill displayed by the players. Zappa's guitar solos on Zomby Woof and Montana still give me shivers up and down my spine, and despite being 42, I still have to crank the volume when these tunes come on.

Out of Zappa's entire catalogue, this was his most brilliant and most complete package. He had many other fine recordings, but none quite repeat the brilliance this release had. If I could give it six stars I would, just to set it apart from the others that I rate with five stars.

Baby Snakes

Baby Snakes
The 77/78 band rocked really hard, and this album gives us a glimpse of that. But man, at 35 minutes this is too short. Imagine going to a gig and it just lasting a half an hour-you feel short-changed. On top of that, the song 'baby snakes' is already on sheik yerbouti. So there are only 6 songs from the concert. They're really good though. Titties and beer is a classic vehicle for zappa and bozzio to make us laugh. Top tune. Black page is one of the great zappa instrumentals and is played brilliantly. Jones crusher comes across very well. Disco boy too. Dinah-moe-humm has some guy we can't see dancing, but it's fun anyway. Punk's Whip is the highlight along with black page. It's not as involved as the zappa in new york version, there's no horn section-still, it is almost as good. Frank has a great, long solo at the end. Pity there aren't more songs on the album though. Very short CD in length

Absolutly free

Absolutely Free
On the original LP, I played Side One more often than Side Two, as it seemed to flow better. The butchering of "Louie Louie" at the beginning of "Plastic People" sets the mood, as when the Mothers Of Invention were a bar band only, under the name of "The Soul Giants," they played such songs on demand to drunk, unruly crowds constantly, and this can make a person hate such a song. But there is obviously a fondness for it, as virtually all of Zappa's work has at least one passing reference to "Louie Louie" in it. Other versions of it, released later, are more true in structure to "Louie Louie," and are pretty funny to listen to. Here, it just permutates into a similar song, but obviously, they got away from that idea.

Organized incoherence becomes the theme of this performance, as "Duke Of Prunes," silly title and words that it has, starts with a soft, soothing melody, building up steam until the bridge, "Amnesia Vivance," which is basically a blitzkrieg of sound, clashing time signatures and different themes assailing the listener's ears at once, cleaning itself up to form the reprise of "Duke," the last verse being subtitled "The Duke Regains His Chops," a faster rendition of "Duke Of Prunes." Segue into "Call Any Vegetable," structurally the same as the "Duke" segment, but with more textures. This song sounds top-heavy and unbalanced, but quickly, one can tell it's intentional. There is a section of sour notes on the instruments, but they are played with deliberation, much like a lot of Captain Beefheart's music, and when it seques into "Invocation And Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin," it's like a tense spring is being released. The extended jam is more about the mood of the piece, than what's actually being played. Seven minutes of frantically paced, free-form jamming, featuring soloing on guitar by Zappa, accompanied by an electronically treated soprano sax solo being simultaneously played by Bunk Gardner, and the the two musicians appear to be ignoring one another; each is going where he pleases here, held together with a remarkable job by the rhythm section. Some written credits have Jim Black playing drums with Billy Mundi (who looks amazingly like John Belushi, by the way), while Ray Collins is playing tambourine, but film clips from this era, have Black playing tambourine. When they hired Mundi, Black rarely played drums. He focused on singing. He sings a lot on the Mothers' records. But this forms into "Soft Sell Conclusion, which is actually the coda of "Call Any Vegetable." Very complex in texture, melodies and themes crashing into one another, while Zappa takes the last verse (you can hear Collins playing harmonica in the background), bringing the first half of "Absolutely Free" to its end.

The second half is just as accomplished, but is peppered with more short selections that lampoon society and American culture, with humor practically being another instrument. It is book-ended with the "America Drinks" theme, just Collins singing in a style like that of a lounge singer; they skewer teenagers in "Status Back Baby," relationships in "Son Of Suzy Creamcheese," and consumerism in "Uncle Bernie's Farm."

The most elaborate piece is "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," which is structured in such a way, it seems to be geared toward those with short attention spans, the A.D.D. Anthem. It is full of lots of nasty little themes about illicit (and illegal) sex, and rebellion, lines like "Be a loyal plastic robot for a world that doesn't care." It reaches a cacophonous conclusion, and closes with "America Drinks And Goes Home," a reprise of the original theme. Only this time, it has more instruments, and sounds from a crowded bar getting more and more out of control. Every musician who has ever played in a bar can identify with this.

It takes a little getting used to, but "Absolutely Free" is a very good record from possibly the wildest band ever to enter a studio.

200 Motels

200 Motels
Of the more than 60 releases by Frank Zappa; none encompass the total breadth and scope of this twentith century master. That said; 200 motels (and "Lather") comes as close as any. There's the complex yet lyrical classical work. The satirical comedy. The raw outlandish rock and roll, and his dissonant percussive madness. Even the rare appearance of opera can be found in this brilliant master work. If you want to completely immerse yourself into the world of Frank Zappa; you will find it on 200 Motels. Sex, touring, rednecks, groupies, middle america, dental hygiene, and YES, even the size of YOUR organ, are covered in this irreverent and beautiful work. The disc contains all the original artwork; as well as the original movie poster. The booklet also features some added insight into the making of the movie, and the music. Rykodisc has done an impeccable job restoring the original material here, and included Cal Schenkel (the original artist) in the re-packaging process. As an added bonus; the disc contains an enhanced CD track with the original theatrical trailor. This; the last of the original titles to be re-released; 200 motels proves once again; the genius that was Frank Zappa. If you only buy one Zappa disc, make it 200 Motels. Frank Zappa was a true american original, and 200 Motels is a MASTERPIECE!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Studio Tan

To call Zappa's music orchestral jazz is inaccurate and misleading.The music on Studio Tan is much closer to Western 20th century classical music than jazz. I would venture to call it post-jazz classical music (informed by jazz, while continuing to push the limits of classical music). The Adventures of Greggery Peccary is one of Zappa's greatest achievements. Although Greggery Peccary is often abstract, dissonant, and disjunct, it is quite palatable. Studio tan is overflowing with the rhythmic energy and melodic inventiveness that Zappa is famous for. The melodies are a prime example of Zappa's post-atonal melodic style. Although only vaguely tonal (closer to the atonal side of the tonality continuum), the melodies sound catchy and somehow intuitively right (a description which calls to mind the melodic style of Thelonius Monk). ...For every famous band, there are 1,000 bands just as good playing in a garage somewhere that you will never hear ("product of the media" famous bands are obviously not chosen for musical talent, but for "more marketable" features such as sex appeal). There was, however, only 1 Frank Zappa. One more thing, the version of RDNZL on this release is OK, but I prefer the live versions of this one (such as can be heard on You Can't Do That On Stage [Vol. IV?]).

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Roxy & Elsewhere

Roxy and Elsewhere
ROXY & ELSEWHERE is arguably Zappa's best live album. It features what was, for my tastes, the best lineup of musicians he ever shared a stage with: Napoleon Murphy Brock, Bruce and Tom Fowler, Ruth Underwood, the demon-fingered George Duke, and several others you can read about in the liner notes. (Anybody who enjoyed this cast of characters should also check out the studio album ONE SIZE FITS ALL.)

Zappa is comfortable and at ease with his audience on this album; he delivers a couple of relaxed monologues about, e.g., monster movies, and his guitar work is always both brilliant and accessible. His musical arrangements are funky and tasteful; his lyrical satire is in top form, has left behind the snide contemptuousness of some of his early stuff, and hasn't yet taken on the bitter, curmudgeonly edge that came to characterize some of his later work. In short, he comes across as what he was: a genius guitarist and composer who was enjoying himself onstage with both the audience and the band.

There are some serious Zappa classic on this album -- notably "Cheepnis," his hilarious but appreciative parody of low-budget monster movies (". . . the monster, which the peasants in this area call FRUNOBULAX . . . "); a redux version of FREAK OUT's "Trouble Every Day," rendered this time out as a slow and bluesy number with an achingly brilliant guitar solo; and the very, very long "Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen's Church)," which occupied an entire album side on the original LP and features both Zappa's signature "audience participation" and some terrific keyboard-and-vocal work from George Duke ("This is BEEEEEEEEEEEEE-bop, even though you think it doesn't sound like that . . . ") -- plus some others I won't list here.

Classic stuff. In short, Zappa at his finest, and a must for FZ fans and neophytes alike.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One Size Fits All

One Size Fits All
For one thing, this album's got the guitar solo on 'Inca Roads'. I stand second to none in my admiration for FZ's all-around chops and I love _Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar_. But this is my single favorite (recorded) FZ guitar solo. Lifted from a live performance in Helsinki (and available in a slightly shorter edit on _You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 2_), it's one of his most fluid and melodic ever, and after thirty years it still never fails to grab me. (And notice his subdued, thoughtful use of the so-called 'wah-wah' pedal. He doesn't use it to go 'wah-wah-wah'; he uses it as a tone control.)

For another, it's got a _lot_ of great studio recordings. To my taste, at least, this is where FZ really fulfills the promise of _Hot Rats_.

For another, it's got the Mothers' dream lineup of the mid-1970s: Ruth Underwood, George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock, the Fowler brothers, Chester Thompson, and the rest (the same folks who accompanied him on his very best live album, _Roxy & Elsewhere_). Probably every FZ fan has his or her favorite backing band; this is mine.

Finally, there's Cal Schenkel's brilliant and hilarious cover art -- which, in the CD release, is included in a full-sized unfoldable version for you to appreciate in detail.

FZ was a musical genius and an incredibly prolific one; if you're just now being introduced to him, there are lots of places to start. I recommend starting here. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Zoot Allures

Zoot Allures
Zoot Allures is one of the most unique albums in Zappa's catalogue. Nearly all of the instruments are played by FZ himself (including bass!), with Ruth Underwood on percussion, the incomparable Terry Bozzio on drums, and some backing vocalists. It really is Zappa "stripped down" as its often described. Most of the songs have the same instruments, tones, and the same heavy-breathed vocals. The drab production, however, makes this album a chore at spots when the songs themselves aren't strong enough to work without a little production effort. What really saves this album are a few incredible instrumental pieces.

The opener is often sneered at, but WIND UP WORKIN' IN A GAS STATION is an actually one of the better tracks on the album. Its a little something like rock-doowop. A relatively simple song with a simple riff that belies a pretty intricate vocal arrangement. BLACK NAPKINS, the one live track on the album, is absolutely incredible. Zappa weaves a beautiful thematic phrase into some of his most inspired guitarwork, creating one of his most somber and emotive tone poems in his career. Its unfortunately followed by the mediocre, over-long and over-used THE TORTURE NEVER STOPS. The next tracks, MS PINKY and FIND HER FINER, are rather typical Zappa sex numbers. They're pretty good songs, but the production here really fails them, and after a few entertaining listens they lost their charm. The same can be said for THE WONDERFUL WINO, although this one manages to keep a lot of panache.

FRIENDLY LITTLE FINGER is an incredible instrumental with a great oriental guitar opening that leads into a rather wandering guitar solo. The real treat here is Zappa's rapid-fire bass work. The title track, ZOOT ALLURES, is another one of Zappa's most amazing solos. The composed portion of this solo is one of the most incredible things FZ wrote in his entire career. The majesty of this number is nicely undercut by the levity of the closer, DISCO BOY, which is absolutely fun.

It should be noted that BLACK NAPKINS and ZOOT ALLURES, along with one other FZ solo (Watermelon in Easter Hay), are believed to have been considered by Zappa himself as his best work. The Zappa Family Trust goes so far as to ask cover bands to not cover these songs, and a posthumous album (Frank Zappa Plays The Music of Frank Zappa) is devoted entirely to tracing the progression of these three songs. Its absolutely incredible that two of these solos are found on this unlikely album.

Although I wouldn't call it his best by any shot, or even one of his best, this album is absolutely essential. There's too much interesting going on here not to count this as an integral part of any FZ collection.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hot Rats

Hot Rats
Basically just dropping the name `Mothers of Invention' and releasing this as his first solo album, Mr. Zappa showed, who had been boss all the time, and let the unsuspecting music world cop it in the teeth with this blast of basically instrumental work. Gone were the dropping off into the world of parody or spoken word humour, that had often enlivened, but more often marred `The Mothers' albums. A joke is only funny the first couple of times, but soon becomes annoying, especially after repeated playing in between bits of your favorite music.
But here on `Hot Rats' Mr. Zappa surrounds himself with some of the finest musicians in the United States of America, who just happened to also be his best friends, and went from cult figure to International Superstar. In the high brow student world of 1970, if you didn't have the Hot Rats poster in your bed sit, you were considered very square. The album was an absolute `must have'. (Mind you it was also required to wear your hair down to your ankles, platform boots 2 foot tall, huge bell bottom trousers that hid them anyway, say things like "Cosmic" or "Groovy" a lot, and end every sentence with "Man". Eat your heart out Austin Powers, looking back it all seems terribly complicated now.)
But that was one thing that Mr. Zappa had mastered, although all of the playing on this album is intricate in the extreme, with great lolloping extended solos and each song has a terribly gripping hum able tune that makes your fingers twitch and your feet tap.
The first piece of music presented here for your edification (it would almost be an insult to label them down as just plain old songs) is the wonderfully monickered "Peaches En Regalia", where Mr. Zappa on guitar, and multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood get to flex their musical muscles. These two musicians are the only two to appear on every track. "Peaches En Regalia" is certainly one of Mr. Zappa's most commercial and popular tracks and, almost certainly, one of his best. In an amazing way the album starts, leading us into a treasure trove of sound. Yes, this was what started what is called `Jazz/Rock', but at the time it was just a convenient label for journalists to put it under. Mr. Zappa should not take the responsibility for the driveling of some, who tried to follow in his footsteps.
Next up is the infamous "Willie The Pimp" the only vocal track on the album sung by the esteemed Don Van Vliet, better known as `Captain Beefheart', and what lyrics they were too!
"I'm a little pimp with my hair gassed back
Pair of khaki pants with my shoe shined black"
You can hear the gleam in the great Captain's eye, the guitar solo that follows will take the roof off your head every time you hear it. And remember, Steve Vai was an apprentice of Mr. Zappa's for many years and has never been able to step out of his shadow.
After "Son of Mr. Green Genes", and for this album the short "Little Umbrellas", you get the full version of "The Gumbo Variations". This had to be severely edited for the vinyl release due to time constraints, but now with the wonders off compact discs, you get the whole thing remastered from the original tapes, all but seventeen minutes (what's three seconds between friends), where the soloists, Mr. Zappa guitar, Ian Underwood everything, and Sugar Cane Harris on violin, all vie for the spotlight, holding your attention with every nuance of sound.
Then finally we get "It Must Be A Camel" (the title of which sounds like something J.K. would say out on the golf course after a bad night), where the legendry Jen Luc Ponty joins the fray to bring it all to a fitting climax.
A truly magnificent collection. If it's not in yours, make it so.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Franks Hairdo

Franks Hairdo


Zappa took a compositional turn with this album. It's in the genre of "Over-Nite Sensation," but further developed towards whatever it is musicians think of when they hear "Zappa," and there was more like this and even further developed material to come. This album has a definitive main thread, even though it features four different drummers and four different bass players, because it's very bluesy. Even if the songs aren't played with typical blues progressions --with the exception of "Cosmik Debris"-- there's a bluesy feeling pretty much throughout, which mainly the guitar solos lend. But there's more than a feeling of blues to this album; the songs are complex to an unusual (yet not extreme) degree, but make sense, and are very well performed. "Apostrophe (')" is, in a way, an album in a genre of it's own - mainly for the highly individual compositions "St. Alfonzo" and "Father O'Blivion," but also much because of "Uncle Remus" with its feeling of soul and gospel that isn't much heard anywhere else in Zappa's discography. Many think that "Stink-Foot" is not a highlight, and while I understand that point of view (since it fills a fifth of this 32-minute album and doesn't have a compositional quality like the other songs) I still find it highly entertaining and needed because of its groove. Don't let the length of the album scare you, btw - the material on it is worth the money. 4 1/2 stars.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ship Arriving to late to save a drowning witch

Zappa and Moon Unit
I always wished Zappa could have kept the sound and intensity he achieved in "Ship Arriving Too Late ..." for at least one more record.

The first song, "No Not Now" has ridiculously stupid lyrics and an excellent blues/doo-wop melody straight from "Cruising with Ruben and the Jets" welded to an infectious hardcore popping bass riff.

Valley Girl has one of the most crushing bass and guitar parts heard then or ever in semi-popular music. because moon zappa's vocal is so funny and off the wall it is easy to forget contemplating the weirdness of this song charting in the top 40 at the end of the 1970s with such a heavy and grinding musical chassis.

There is a very surfy California sound to this entire album, part in the rhythm, the guitar sound, bass sound, the drum sound, and the lyrics. In some ways the sound and attitude reminds me of California bands like Agent Orange and the Minutemen and the Dead Kennedys. It's a light and carefree sound but also deceptively serious. Because Frank Zappa was practically a southern California native, a desert rat Army brat from deep in the Mojave, I like to think that he had this sound in his skin and bones and on Ship Arriving Too Late ... it just oozed out of his pores.

"I Come From Nowhere" has always been one of my favorite Zappa songs. It fuses some of Frank's most aggressive speed metal rhythm and solo guitar playing, an astoundingly tight rhythm section, a completely insane vocal delivery with lyrics that are as funny and disturbing as "Who Are the Brain Police?"

The opening section of Frank's guitar solo is as violent a piece of music as can be found anywhere and his guitar tone rips your head off. Patrick O'Hearn's astounding bass playing takes the song into a whole different category.

It would take nearly a decade, until Metallica, before music this intense, abrasive and highly structured found any audience.

Side two of Ship Arriving Too Late is a 17 minute medley that defies description. Typical of Frank during this period, it contains a continental plate collision of loosely improvised and difficult, highly rehearsed music all performed live, with Steve Vai all over it on some of the weirdest and hardest live guitar parts ever recorded. Scott Thunes on bass deserves huge accolades for anchoring this bizarre concoction, as does drummer Chad Wackerman. This type of stuff shouldn't work but I love it. Frank sarcastically named a bunch of live CDs "You Can't Do This on Stage Anymore" but hearing this stuff I think he was just telling the truth.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Waka Jawka

Waka Jawka
I am listening to this CD as I write this review. I bought this CD when it first came out. I have lost count how many times I have played it. I never get tired of hearing this brilliant album. I have almost all of Zappa's CD's and this one together with "Hot Rats" and "Grand Wazoo" are my absolute favourites because he has allowed himself to concentrate on producing serious progressive music rather than his more comic and bizzare CD's. Don't get me wrong - I like almost all of Zappa's music - it is just that the above mentioned CD's really show us the genious that was Zappa. Like most of the other reviewers I agree with them that "Big Swifty" and "Waka Jawaka" are the most incredible tracks on the CD. I wont bother describing these tracks because words fail me. Let me say though, that I have lost count of the number of times on a Sunday afternoons I have cranked up the volume in my lounge room and have imitated all the instruments in the songs going from guitar to horn to trumpet and back again. I loose myself in his music. If you are a fan of creative, progressive, jazzy music then buy this CD - now!

New Blog

I have every Frank Zappa CD, I will begin reviews of FZ Albums in this Blog as well as sharing pictures and other items about Frank. Enjoy